Shivers for Christmas edited by Richard Dalby
Thomas Dunne, 1st edition, 1995
Genre: Christmas stories, horror, short stories
Synopsis & Review: There’ll be scary ghost stories, and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.
When I was ten, my mother bought two volumes of Richard Dalby’s Chillers for Christmas, a collecton of macabre and dark short stories with Christmas themes. She gave one copy to my eldest sister for Christmas, and kept the other, and since then, it’s been an integral part of my Christmas reading. I’ve read it nearly ever year since then, unless I was away from home or it was packed away due to space constraints. Since I’ve enjoyed Chillers for Christmas so many times, I decided to check out some of Mr Dalby’s other collections, and found Shivers for Christmas just in time for the holiday reading challenges.
Regrettably, Shivers is a lesser volume than Chillers; perhaps it’s simply my nostalgia for the latter that makes it superior to my mind, or it could be that Mr Dalby had simply exhausted his resources with his many other collections—I cannot say. Or perhaps it’s just that the title is apt: these are stories to induce shivers, a delicate frisson of horror, rather than the chilling and sometimes terrible stories found in Chillers. Read the rest of this entry »
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
originally published 1898
Buccaneer Books, 1993
Genre: Horror, Gothic novella
Synopsis & Review: Over the Christmas holidays, a man tells a ghost story he’s kept to himself since it was told to him years ago. A young governess, swayed by a handsome employer, goes to a remote country house to take charge of a young orphaned girl. The house and child are beautiful and pleasant, and the housekeeper who is her closest co-worker is a nice, comfortable woman. But when the young boy is expelled from his school without a word about why, the governess must also care for him, and the atmosphere becomes ominous.
The governess soon discovers that both the children’s previous caretakers are dead, and that they were involved in an unsavory way. She also begins to see strange people where they shouldn’t be. And worst of all, the children seem aware of the unwholesome presences–and even to welcome them. Beneath the peaceful facade of the house and the innocent faces of the children lies an immense, unspeakable evil.
The second book I picked up for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon would also have suited RIP IV–but reading it at work was a dreadful mistake. Though many nights at work are very quiet and I can read undisturbed for hours, last Saturday was a nightmare. I don’t think I managed to go even five minutes without a disturbance of some kind. And reading Henry James under such circumstances was maddening. At least it was only eighty-seven pages. Read the rest of this entry »
Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural edited by Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise
originally published 1944
Modern Library, 8th printing, 1994
Genre: Horror, anthology
Synopsis & Review:
From ghoulies and ghosties
and long-legged beasties
and things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord deliver us!
This is a massive tome, clocking in at over a thousand pages, with fifty-two stories by forty-two authors, from the early nineteenth century till World War II. There are textbook classics (Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” and Saki’s “The Open Window”) and lesser-known works by masters (LeFanu’s “Green Tea,” Dineson’s “The Sailor-Boy’s Tale,” Blackwood’s “Confession”), and stories in every shade, form the comic or ironic to the downright horrible. (And even the occasional snorer.) Published in 1944, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural features none of the late twentieth century masters, such as Jackson or Matheson, but instead provides a solid foundation of modern horror. Each story (or pair of stories, as a few authors feature more than one) is prefaced by a short introduction, usually with some notes on the author and tale. These notes are occasionally humorous, reflecting the changes in seventy years of scholarship. For example, the introduction to Sheridan LeFanu’s “Green Tea” makes no mention of the author’s Uncle Silas or even “Carmilla,” a massively influential vampire story. Because “Green Tea”—which I’d never heard of—“[is] a favorite of anthologists.” You know, I used to read a lot of anthologies, and never once happened across this one. Heh. But, tastes change.
This was my final official book for RIP IV, and it took me FOREVER to finish this. I refused to consider completing the challenge until I had finished it, too. I thought I was never going to, and nearly gave up in despair several times. Three weeks! An entire fortnight, and nearly a half! How is that possible? “Schatzi,” you say, “Cut yourself some slack. It’s a thousand pages.” You don’t understand, a thousand pages is nothing to me; I can read that in a night if I like. Shoots, I read The Stand in a day—in sixth grade. Read the rest of this entry »
A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
Random House, 1st edition, 1995
Genre: potboiler, romance, Victorian pop literature
Synopsis & Review: Eighteen-year-old Rosamond Vivian lives on a remote island off the English coast with only her eremitic, indifferent grandfather for company. Longing for something, anything of note to happen in her life, she recklessly declares, “I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.” And so she very nearly does, for on the heels of her declaration, Phillip Tempest enters her life, a thrilling and sinister, but devilishly charming, man enters her life. Rosamond soon succumbs to the temptations Tempest offers, falling in love with the first attractive, virile man she’s ever met–and with the visions he paints before her of sailing the world on his yacht Circe, and seeing everything she’s only read of in books. When she finally admits her love for him, Tempest dares her grandfather to wager her very being, and so wins Rose’s hand in a game of cards. Before they set sail, Tempest offers Rose one final chance to live with him and be his love, damning society, but she refuses and insists that he marry her or not have her at all.
A year later, in the pleasure gardens of Valrosa, Rose learns that those who dance must pay the fiddler as Tempest proves that he is the blackguard and libertine he always insisted he was with deceit, treachery, and even murder blackening his soul. Not only does Tempest do away with her little page Ippolito–who may be something else entirely–but he is married to another woman already. desperate, Rose hastens away through the night, unable to share her life with a man so heartless, as much as she may love him. And so begins the long fatal love across Europe, from convent to asylum, garrets to country manors. Each time Rose thinks she has escaped his grasp, Tempest appears once more in her life, beguiling her to join him again, and the farther and faster she runs, the more he desires her.
She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish. So wrote Louisa May Alcott of Jo March in Little Women, but she might as well have been writing about herself. To support her family, Louisa May, too wrote blood-and-thunder tales and thrillers under a nom de plume, and wildly successful ones, at that. A Long Fatal Love Chase was one of those, written after her European travels. Destined for serialization, it was ultimately rejected, even after extensive rewrites, for being “too long and too sensational,” and remained unpublished till 1995. Read the rest of this entry »
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
originally published 1868/9
Dell Yearling Classics, 2nd printing, 1987
Genre: Children’s literature
Synopsis & Review: Loosely based on Alcott’s own experiences growing up, Little Women tells the story of the four adolescent March sisters–Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–as they grow up genteelly poor in Civil War Concord, Massachusetts. While their father serves as chaplain in the Union Army, the girls are raised by their beloved mother, Marmee, who guides them through their trials and tribulations both small and large. The novel begins at Christmas, when the girls work to overcome their selfish instincts by spending their pocket money on gifts for Marmee. As presents, they received individual copies of the New Testament, and each vows to work to overcome her flaws using it as a guidebook. The eldest sister Meg is a proper young lady, pretty and responsible, but she best remembers life before the Marches lost their money, and often sighs for pretty things and luxuries. She struggles against vanity, particularly when compared to the lives of her still-wealthy friends and her employers. The chief protagonist Jo is a harum-scarum girl, tomboyish and outspoken, and an aspiring writer who must learn to subdue her too hot temper. Beth is a talented pianist, but over-shy, to the point where she does not go to school and stays home caring for her dolls and cats, avoid public interaction whenever possible. She works at overcoming her shyness, especially when doing charitable works or befriending old Mr Laurence. The youngest sister, Amy is artistic and self-conscious, too aware of her prettiness and social graces. As the baby of the family, she has been petted and spoilt, and is prone to tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. She is aware of her selfishness, and her task is to overcome it. As the sisters go about their business, they also befriend their neighbors, wealthy old Mr Laurence and his grandson Laurie, a musical young man who becomes fast friends with the Marches, especially Jo. And that is enough synopsis for this classic, since if you haven’t read it already (gasp!) you can see it all on Wikipedia. I mean, who doesn’t know all this already?
I was eight when I read Little Women for the first time (is that late, or right on time?); my mother, who loved helping me pick out my allowance books and often steered me toward the classics she loved as a little girl, suggested it, and so I began reading it that winter. Read the rest of this entry »
A second Summer Reading Project is being hosted over at The Valve, and the book for this summer is Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. Since I’ve been jonesing to read more Brontë anyway, this seemed like a great opportunity. Plus, a couple people over at WoTMUD.org are reading along, too. It’s a big reading frenzy!
I started a couple of days ago, between Black Alibi and the rest of my life, and I am on Chapter V now, so am making good time. When I read a literary classic,I always read the Introduction or Forward (I would do this for any book, but classics tend to have them more often than pop fiction), though I know some people feel that this can ruin enjoyment due to spoilers; do you prefer to read supplemental information before or after you finish a book? I also really enjoy footnotes and endnotes, and read them as they come up in the text. I have heard complaints about them, but that just seem odd to me; I feel that notes enhance a reading. Do footnotes or endnotes bother you? Well, off to work and more Villette!
Have a happy Fourth!